“Issue Snapshots” and The Wayback Machine
The IRS recently sent out an email (to those of you brave enough to willingly put yourselves on a government email list – rather like those intrepid souls who voluntarily follow @CIA on Twitter), regarding its “Issue Snapshots” webpage. The email lists the latest Snapshots, but the full list can be found at the bottom of the page here.
The IRS says that Issue Snapshots are not “official pronouncements of law or directives” (unclear what the difference between those two things is for this purpose). Issue Snapshots “cannot be used, cited or relied upon” as either “law or directives.” They are intended to “provide an overview of an issue and are a means for collaborating and sharing knowledge among IRS employees.” In essence, we are being allowed a window into the IRS’s employee education program. Although the Snapshots may lack the comedic content of certain other employee training programs, and although some of them are rather untimely against the backdrop of recent legislative changes, they are an interesting glimpse into topics that the IRS thinks are worthy of clarifying for its employees. They may also provide hints as to likely future audit targets (the Issue Snapshots usually contain a section ominously called “Issue Indicators or Audit Tips”).
The Issue Snapshots are the latest example of a long tradition of the IRS making its internal educational documents public. You can also review the IRS’s current Tax-Exempt Bonds Training Materials (Phases I, II, and III), which provides a more comprehensive overview of various topics.
You can also find prior employee training manuals that are no longer on the IRS website. This miracle is possible because of that most marvelous (or terrifying, depending on how your perspective changes from one situation to the next) tool: The Wayback Machine, available at http://web.archive.org. There’s even an app. The Wayback Machine periodically “crawls” across the entire known internet, archiving various websites periodically. As an example, here are the Continuing Professional Education texts from 2003. The 2003 texts were the most current ones available for a number of years. (Caution, though; there’s no telling why the IRS removed any particular text. One possible inference is that the IRS wanted to move away from the position described in a particular instructional text.)
Your ability to actually click around and view different parts of a particular website that has been saved by The Wayback Machine will vary from site to site. (One fun exercise, particularly for our readers at law firms, is to search for your website’s URL and select the earliest saved version. Interesting outfits and hairdos abound. Our firm’s Y2K preparation materials are a particularly interesting relic.)